(Photo by Mel Evans-Pool/Getty Images)
Never mind whether the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher report on Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal is fair and accurate. (In case you missed it, the report cleared Christie of any wrongdoing in that messy matter). And who cares whether New Jersey taxpayers should be footing the $1 million legal bill for the controversial report? Let the muckety-mucks debate those issues. (Quick summary: The New York Times calls the report a “whitewash,” while the Wall Street Journal finds it credible.)
Instead, let’s home in on a juicier issue: Was the report an exercise in slut-slamming?
I’m referring to the claims of sexism that were raised about Gibson Dunn’s treatment of Bridget Anne Kelly (above), one of the two key figures that the report blames for orchestrating the lane closings behind Bridgegate. (The other main culrpit, according to Gibson Dunn, is David Wildstein, an official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.)
According to the Times, the Gibson Dunn report paints Kelly as “duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability.” The NYT also says:
Though the lawyers who wrote the report did not interview her, they explain her conduct in unusually personal terms—she is out of the office attending to a family member who had been hospitalized; a brief relationship “had cooled” at the “behest” of the man, Mr. Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien.
What’s more, the Times points out that the report says that “events in her personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind.”
Of course, my feminist antennae perked up when I read all this. I mean, what more could you ask for than a stereotypical portrait of an unhinged, scorned woman? But instead of condemning the report right off the bat, I decided to go straight to Randy Mastro, the Gibson Dunn partner who headed the investigation, to see what he had to say. To my delight, Mastro agreed to talk about the allegation that the report treated Kelly in a sexist fashion.
Over phone conversation and email exchanges, Mastro vehemently denied those charges. “The premise of the Times piece was wholly unfounded,” said Mastro, adding that the reporter never bothered to ask him for comment. What’s more, he said, most of the Gibson Dunn lawyers on the team were women, including Gibson Dunn partner Debra Wong Yang, a former U.S. Attorney and friend of Christie.
As for the accusation that the report focused gratuitously on Kelly’s emotional state, Mastro disagreed: “Our report attributed equal blame to both Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein. And it described the personal conduct and reactions of both of them because it was relevant to consciousness of guilt and culpability.”
I get what Mastro is saying: Facts are the facts, and if Kelly was an emotional wreck, Gibson Dunn had an obligation to put that in the report.
So I decided to slog through the report (yes, that was my weekend reading) for a closer read. As much as I’d like to say that Mastro convinced me otherwise, I’m afraid the report itself left me with an uncomfortable sense that Kelly had been typecast as an unstable woman. Besides being described as “upset” numerous times, the report refers to her as being “habitually insecure about how she was perceived by the Governor”; it also notes that Bill Stepien was the one who broke off their relationship. Are these essential details? Hmm.
But Mastro argued that the report “contained references to many people involved here showing emotion.” In fact, he added, “we used the word ‘emotional’ to describe the Governor’s conduct no less than six times in our report.”
True, the report does talk about how Christie was “emotional” and had “tears in his eyes” during a meeting with staff members about the bridge scandal. And, yes, there was the reference to another occasion when Christie, “slamming the door… was visibly upset,” as he was trying to find out who ordered the lane closings.
But I’d argue those descriptions of Christie’s emotions softened his gruff image. Christie getting all choked up fighting for truth is wholly different than Kelly melting into a hysterical, lying mess.
Don’t get me wrong here—not for one minute do I think Kelly is a true victim. (Need I remind you that she was the one who sent out the email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee?”) Even if you believe only a fraction of what the report says about her, you have to admit she’s no girl scout.
I don’t mind calling her a liar and scoundrel, but can we just stop there?
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